Cold Adaptation

I listened to the podcast about adapting to the heat and understand that this relates to building cooling efficiency. But do you think you need extended time to adapt to the cold. I have a few races in Jan/Feb and would love to hear your thoughts and techniques for adapting to the cold.

I raced in a frigid SoCal winter last year from Jan to about March. I’m being only a little sarcastic, as it was super cold for me. It even snowed near the desert for one of the races, which was pure misery. It never got easier and I dreaded each one equally.

If there is a way to adapt, I’m not sure if I even want to endure it. I’m scared of the cold during my first race late January!

Car-free year-round commuter here, and I can say that cold adaptation does occur.

In the early fall, the morning rides in the 40s feel frigid after summertime lows in the 80s (yes, overnight lows). But by spring, afternoon highs in the 40s feel downright balmy.

And every year, making this adaptation takes a toll in fatigue and grumpiness, despite dressing warmly and feeling comfortable in the cold.

I have no idea what the science says or how one would deliberately acclimate in short order for an event. I just ride in it every day,

The trick is to get your clothes and layering right so that your are comfortable but not sweating too much.


As mentioned, you do get used to cold and adapt as a long winter goes on, presuming you live somewhere were it is actually cold all the time.

But, the real secret is realizing that unlike hot, there really is no such thing as cold - just bad clothing choices!

It is hard to balance the cold vs sweat thing long term and it does take some cash to gear up properly. But for any ride under 2 hours, if you dress right, you’ll be comfortable no matter what the temperature is.

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I think cold adaptation does happen. I’m not sure how to go about defining or causing it to occur. I work outside for a living, so for me, it happens naturally. My riding buddy and I will routinely do mtb rides in sub 0° temps. I rarely even put on thermal leggings until it’s below 20°.
It would seem to me that cold adaptation could be approached the same way as heat adaptation. Start with brief, but moderate rides in increasingly cooler weather. Afterall, that’s how it works for me when working outside. The days get cooler and your body adjusts.

How you prepare for the cold depends on how long your races are and how long you’ll be out in the cold, and obviously how cold it is.

Multi hour races where you have to stay warm for long periods at temps below freezing are a lot different than a 1 hr race in the 30s or 40s.

As with anything, the more you practice in your target conditions, the better prepared your are mentally, and with your clothing + equipment.

And I think also there is physical adaptation. Ice climbers are known to put their hands in buckets of ice to improve cold resistance.

I usually layer up with merino wool layers under my windproof cycling jackets.
The colder it is, the more merino wool.
Currently using a merino wool 200g base layer, a heavier arctic merino wool sweater and cycling jacket ontop, I use a arctic merino wool pants under my fleece lined winter BiBs, this keeps me warm around -8C to -15C. Any lower than that and I need more or I take public transport.

Tho I get cold very easily with low BF%, so your milage may vary.

My experience is that keeping the feet warm is the hardest. Hands are OK with a pair of thin gloves and warmer ones over the top. The body is easy with good use of layering. Legs are no problem, although leggings with reinforced/windproof knee sections are to be advised.

The washing basket does get full quickly though

I ride often in below freezing temps. Unless I’m riding hard up a long climb, I generally can adjust my clothing so I don’t sweat (which is desireable so clothes don’t get wet).

This means I can reuse the same clothes (other than chamois) multiple times. I swear, I don’t smell at all :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

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Clarification: there is more to cold adaptation than dressing warmly.

Like I said, I can physically feel comfortable while properly dressed but still experience increased fatigue as the seasons change colder.

Besides aero concerns (winter kit being fluffier and draggier that summer kit and colder air being denser), I wonder what effects the lungs and airways experience when subjected to colder, drier air.

Are there any cold adaptation methods similar to those mentioned on the podcasts about heat adaptation?

That is, should I open all my windows and ride on the trainer in 0c, to increase my ability to work in those temperatures?

If I sit outside for a short time in winter in a t-shirt and shorts, does it stress the body like using a sauna during summer?

well, if you follow the likes of Wim Hof (aka the iceman -, they would convince you this is the way to go…

It’s just that sitting in the cold is so much less pleasant than sitting in a cosy sauna :sunglasses:

I am doing cold adaptation altough not according to any kind of scientific method. I take 3min cold showers wenever I take a shower but not just before or after excercise. I also sleep with just a sheet on me and keep the bedroom temperature down. I try to keep clothing to minimum without feeling too miserable or starting to shiver (or breaking the law). You get used to feeling a bit cold without feeling uncomfortable. But you do get funny looks when you are wearing just a t-shirt when others are wearing thick jackets.

I believe cold exposure has health benefits. So far my experience is promising. The first winter I did cold adaption, I didn’t get ill at all whereas before I’ve always been ill 1-2 times a winter. The following winter I didn’t do cold exposure and was ill a lot (probably mainly because of poor sleep and my kid going to kindergarten). This year I started again and haven’t been ill so far, so fingers crossed. It also seemed to help in a sportive in which we were riding through the night. It was summer, but the temperature got quite low. I seemed to handle the cold better than my friends.

The point in cold adaptation is to increase the amount of brown adipose tissue (brown fat, the good kind) that burns fat to generate heat. You can burn a lot of calories just to keep yourself warm so it can also help in losing weight more quickly (or eating more without gaining weight).